As another National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) comes to a close, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the world’s largest creative writing project. First of all, congratulations to those who completed their project this month. You’ve done something I cannot do–write with abandon. And for those who didn’t complete the 50,000 words in 30 days, remember there’s always next year and there is nothing keeping you from finishing the novel you’ve already started this year.
I’ve never participated in NANOWRIMO. Now, here’s a bit of honesty: I’m not much a fan either. I think it’s great people are writing, but I have a problem with some of the misconceptions and arrogance that tend to follow. “I’m writing a book too,” someone tells me every November. “In fact,” they say, “I’ve written several. How many have you written?” I have to wonder, what these people writing for?
Imagine if you will a man has built his own do-it-yourself shed. He’s done a great job, every nail is in place, the door swings freely, and the building stands. The man finds out a regional architect is giving a talk at the university and attends. After the talk, the man approaches the architect and says “I’m an architect. I’ve got a building here in town. Maybe sometime you and I can collaborate on a project.” It’s absurd, isn’t it? And yet, writers have to deal with it frequently.
Now there’s nothing wrong with NANOWRIMO. If that’s what encourages a potential writer to start writing, I’m all for it. But there are a few things that are important to know before you start promoting your book.
- Writing is a skill
So you’ve written a book. That’s great. You’ve gotten your words out on the page and that’s the point of writing. That doesn’t mean you’re a writer anymore than the man who built the shed is an architect. If you like what you wrote, continue with it. Spend years on it. Go back to school and learn the craft. Read from the greats and be inspired. Writing may seem to the novice as simple as making complete sentences, but to be skilled at writing takes years and years and years of practice.
- The publishing industry is tough
There are seasoned writers that cannot get published, so don’t expect to have a book deal around the corner just because you’ve written a book. I’m sure that the few authors who truly succeeded with NANOWRIMO spent considerable time after November 30th making their book the best it could be. Books are often born on the eighth or ninth draft. Keep working at that draft you wrote during the month until it’s close to perfection–then worry about the publisher.
- Do it for the experience
What gets me about the many people who’ve approached me saying they’ve written a book for NANAWRIMO is that they believe they’re really special. Yes, you are special–we’re all special–but writing a book doesn’t make you special. Thousands of aspiring writers graduate yearly with MFAs in writing. Add in the hundreds of thousands of hopeful writers graduating yearly with bachelor’s degrees in writing. Plus all the struggling writers already out there writing two or three books before they get a decent deal. Writing a book does not admit you into the cool kids’ club. I wish it did because I’d really like to join myself. Some people will be impressed that you’ve written a book, but it will not be writers, so don’t bother bragging about the three books you’ve written for NANAWRIMO. Write because you love writing, not because you believe it’ll give you some status. The closer you come to truly being a writer, the more humbled you will find yourself.
It may sound like I’m talking down on NANOWRIMO; that’s not my intention. What I hope to impart with this post is a sense that writing can lead to a wonderful and amazing life, much more significant than that one-month stand some brag about. Don’t allow the congratulations to stop you from reaching further. Don’t let the rules tell you you’ve got to stop on the last day of the month. Keep going. Keep striving. Keep writing.